Legislation could hurt integrity of elections

There are a number of problems with a bill in the Nevada Legislature that would allow people to register to vote on Election Day, but the potential for rampant voter fraud might be the least of them.

Assembly Bill 108 would eliminate the deadline for registering to vote and permit registration at the city or county clerk's office right up to the time the polls close. The bill was put forward by the Assembly Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections.

Its supporters say it will help out people who move and are forced to re-register, though those who have recently moved within a county are generally allowed to vote at their former precincts. So we are not sure just how big a problem this is.

Larry Lomax, Clark County's registrar of voters, reports that only one state, Montana, allows same-day registration at the clerk's office, and that its lawmakers are considering a bill to change that. In populous Clark County, there physically is not enough room at the clerks' offices to register voters on the day of an election, the registrar explained.

He said eight states allow registration at the polls on the same day as an election. To do that in Clark County would require two extra staffers at every polling place and probably more polling places, too, Mr. Lomax said, because in those eight states with same-day registration anywhere from 15 to 20 percent of voters register on Election Day.

He estimated the additional cost at $80,000 to $100,000 for each election.

And same-day voting eliminates the ability of the county Elections Department to cross-tabulate the voting rolls against databases of convicted felons who have been disenfranchised. This might just pose a problem where there are exceptionally tight races determined by only a handful of votes.

In other states where there is same-day registration, such as Minnesota and Wisconsin, the voters may cast ballots in November, but without a huge amount of overtime it might take until January to confirm whether everyone who voted is truly an eligible and qualified elector.

As for the potential for fraud, Mr. Lomax said in his experience voter fraud is rare, but he conceded, "It is significantly easier if you have Election Day registration."

One can easily envision a concerted effort by any given candidate to sweep people off the streets, hand them a pre-filled sample ballot and a sandwich and bus them to the polling places en masse. Whether enough of those press-ganged voters would clear subsequent scrutiny to alter an election's outcome is merely a matter of conjecture.

But is a modicum of convenience worth the potential devastation of voter confidence in the integrity of the ballot box? We don't think so.